Intercultural Exchange - Even More than “Travel”

Barb Lazar, Alma Campuzano, and Denise Gleason
Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

What if you could enhance this mindset with an Intercultural Exchange? Did you know that we have such a program here at Bosque?
 
Making new friends, exploring a new culture, and tasting different foods are all benefits of Bosque’s Intercultural Exchange Program with our sister school in Mexico City. Each year, the entire Bosque community has the opportunity to interact directly with students from Colegio Reina Elizabeth. Students participate by hosting Mexican students at their homes, acting as buddies during classes, or by traveling to Mexico to stay with host families. This program began in 2004 and has proven to be a very profound experience for students. Why is it so important to our school and community?
 
Intercultural Engagement
We are part of a global society. We can read about, text with, or connect with people across the globe; but actually conversing and spending time with individuals from cultures different than our own can help us to understand the oneness of humanity. Through such intercultural engagement, we can counteract assumptions and stereotypes. When we stay in each other’s homes, attend classes together, hang out and eat together with friends and family, we gain a greater awareness not only of another culture, but also of ourselves. Part of this Intercultural Exchange Program is engagement with experiential learning to build up and enhance our global cultural perspectives.“This is so much more than seeing sites or visiting people. I actually got to establish relationships—not only with the people I lived with, but also with the entire community.” ~ Elyse ’19
 
Building Relationships and Friendships
The Intercultural Exchange between Bosque School and Colegio Reina Elizabeth has been the source of countless friendships. When we first match CRE students with families here, the connection between host parents and children begins. Communications between families and with students, planning activities, and preparing for host “siblings” is exciting. And then it happens again when students from Bosque are matched with families in Mexico City for the next part of the exchange. Some students and families prefer the hosting aspect of this program, some prefer to be the student who travels to Mexico City, and many get their first taste of the intercultural experience when they are a class buddy or have an exchange student in their class. One thing for sure is that there is a way for all of us to build relationships and friendships through intercultural experiences. Some students share how lasting some of the friendships have been: “My family hosted Curi last year; then when I traveled to Mexico City, I lived with his family.  Curi and I have essentially lived together for a whole month, so even though we come from such culturally different environments, we consider each other “family.” That is a bond that can only be formed in a program like the exchange.” ~Finn ’21
 
Bosque Core Values: Scholarship, Community, Integrity;
Colegio Reina Elizabeth La Filsofia: Ser, Saber, Hacer
Students want to get involved for many different reasons, but these all connect to our core values. For some, the desire to improve their language skills is an incentive; and we see that their work in Spanish classes has an even more authentic purpose. Though the students from CRE want to practice their English language skills as much as we want to practice our Spanish, the intentional study of language is certainly a benefit to the program. Our Bosque community is more welcoming and improved when we enhance and enrich our intercultural experiences. Our schools’ values are in alignment, yet we approach them differently, and students notice. This gives students the opportunity to examine them and create greater value. “I know you all know what Bosque’s core values are, but did you notice what CRE’s values are? Ser, Saber, Hacer. The order matters: you have to recognize who you are and be yourself before you can learn new things and act on them.” ~Diego ’16

These exchanges not only allow us to experience other cultures, but also provide the opportunity to better understand our own community, cultures, and traditions. When students realizes they are part of a global community, they are changed. “I feel like I completely changed as a person. "Being in a situation where I was so immersed in a different culture helped me learn how to interact with different people and situations, and I have learned to be more independent and confident.” ~Phoebe ’22
 
Diversity in Community
Intercultural exchanges help us to experience that diversity of community and create tolerance, acceptance, and flexibility. Appreciation of such diversity of people and cultures allows us to hear more than one story and view the world through a different lens. We have the chance to break through stereotypes and misconceptions about countries and cultures. Cultural exchanges allow members of our respective communities to represent our real selves by interacting with people we have never met, and who never met us. This benefits all members of our communities, beyond simply the exchange student(s). “The exchange helped me broaden ideas of what community can mean. The experience gave me perspective about political and cultural differences.” ~Hawthorne ’22
 
 
Challenging Education
Bosque School has been committed to the Intercultural Exchange Program for the past 14 years. The relationship began in 2004, when Bosque students first traveled to Mexico City and experienced school, family, language, meals, and an entirely different city and culture. Then students from Mexico City began traveling here and became immersed in our world.  What a way to break down assumptions and to grow our stories! Now, our program with Colegio Reina Elizabeth is firmly established and imbedded in both schools’ community and culture. As Bosque School continues to challenge education, our Intercultural Exchange Program is one that truly gives our community the opportunity to grow. This marvelous experience touches everyone’s life at Bosque. Specifically, it’s an exchange opportunity for students in the 6th–10th grades at Bosque. This year our sister school, Colegio Reina Elizabeth, is sending 10–15 students to Albuquerque. In late January/early February, they will live with Bosque families, participate in Bosque School life, and visit cultural sites close to Albuquerque. In other words, they will get a taste of what it’s like to be a member of the Bosque community. Several families become host families, and countless students become class buddies.Then, in March 2019, a group of Bosque students and teachers will travel to Mexico City to live and study with families and students of Colegio Reina Elizabeth. We will live with Reina Elizabeth families, participate in their school life, and visit amazing cultural sites in Mexico City. “When I went, it was my first time traveling on an airplane. It was absolutely amazing to go out of the country. I didn’t know what to expect—Mexico City is an enormous city. I felt overwhelmed at first. But after the first week, I got more familiar with my surroundings. I had to step out of my comfort zone, but it was a growth experience, and I felt more confident.” ~ Aaron ’20
 
The value and importance of intercultural exchanges are priceless. These exchanges open doors of opportunity and perspective, break down invisible walls of assumptions and stereotypes, enhance our personal growth as global citizens, and they are so much fun!

“The hardest part of leaving Mexico is that I am going to miss everything: this beautiful city, my family, and all of my new friends who mean the world to me.” (Compiled from final reflections from students’ Cuadernos 2015–2018)
 
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